No team has proven to be more adept at hosting the Fall Classic than the New York Yankees, so maybe it’s time to give the Winter variety a try?
Too long relegated to an afterthought on the American sports scene, the NHL has managed to carve out at least one day when it takes center stage. When the first Winter Classic was held at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo on January 1, 2008, the idea of outdoor hockey seemed more like a gimmick than the beginning of a holiday tradition. However, the record attendance of 71,217 fans was resounding, and since then the game has become an annual event.
After Buffalo, the Winter Classic moved to Wrigley Field in 2009 and then Fenway Park in 2010 before winding up at Pittsburgh’s Hines Field this evening. Although the game hasn’t been played yet, there has already been talk about what site will host the 2012 edition. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has admitted that Yankee Stadium remains atop his list, but the venue’s four-year contract to host the New Era Pinstripe Bowl has been an impediment. Because the bowl game is scheduled to be played on December 30, and the Winter Classic only two days later, hosting both events in the same year has been deemed an impossibility.
Logistics should not be the reason that one of sports’ most exciting new traditions is prevented from being held in one of the country’s most cherished and symbolic athletic facilities. Compromise is not really possible on the NHL’s end because maintaining the integrity of the January 1 date seems essential to the Winter Classic tradition. So, the burden is on the Yankees to make it happen.
Although there are undoubtedly contractual obligations that would need to be assuaged, the Yankees should actively lean on their college football partners to temporary reschedule the game earlier in the Bowl Season (which in 2010 began on December 18). Assuming the Islanders are still around, the game could feature the struggling franchise against the New York Rangers. Not only could the high profile event help boost the woeful Islanders, but the marginal profit made from the game would likely be at its highest (i.e., replacing an Islanders’ home date would likely be more lucrative than taking one away from more established teams like the Blackhawks and Bruins). Finally, the recent Stanley Cup traditions of both teams would allow for a roster of All Stars to be in attendance (e.g., Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Mike Richter, Brian Leetch and Mark Messier), not to mention one of the loudest “Potvin Sucks” chants in Islanders/Rangers history.
Just like it was in the good old days, Yankee Stadium has become a Mecca of sports and entertainment in New York City. Since opening less than two years ago, the new Yankee Stadium has been host to a World Series, an Army/Notre Dame college football game, a NCAAF bowl game, a championship boxing match and concerts featuring the most popular entertainers of the day. Between now and 2012, the organization should work diligently to add the NHL Winter Classic to that list.